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Friday, April 30, 2010

Late Platonism, determinism and Saint Augustine

Eventhough I don't really like this book because the author was too critical of christianity while somewhat sympathetic with various forms of gnosticism, I did find good nuggets here and there.

"St. Augustine(354-430) was, for the time being,
the last in this chain of development. With his Manichean past stretching over
almost ten years, he had acquired personal experience of the gnostic heresy, and
had reflected on its dangers and value*. He appropriated this heritage most
clearly in the impressive historical review of the two "realms" (civitates), the
devil's or that of the wicked (civitas diaboli or impiorum,) and God's (civitas
Dei), and thus shaped the Christian historical metaphysics of the Middle Ages.
Other aspects of his teaching, too, cannot be understood without this heritage
which is linked closely with the related late Platonic, such as the famous faith
in predestination (grace and election)
, the role of the soul as being in the image of God and thus an immortal element and, above all, the concept of original sin. This latter is the result of man's fall from the divine original state brought about by his own guilt. Its position in Augustine's teaching is an echo of the Manichean idea of the fateful "mixture" of light and darkness, spirit and matter,which necessarily determines human existence. One has attributed to St. Augustine, because of his turning away from Manichean Gnosis and because of his overcoming the problems raised by it, a decisive importance in the final acceptance of the ancient understanding of the cosmos as a good creation of God in opposition to the gnostic hostility to the world. " [1]

This is the second time I noticed someone link Saint Augustine's belief in predestination with neoplatonism. Perry was the first to tell me about Plotinus and Augustine in regards to determinism, as seen here:

"On another point, the reasoning trying to show
that moral responsibility and freedom are compatible with determinism in
Augustine mirrors exactly what the Pagan Plotinus in his Enneads wrote nearly
two centuries prior to Augustine. The soul that falls is determined to do so,
but chooses freely to fall nonetheless and is therefore responsible. This is
significant since Augustine's dying words were quotes from Plotinus'

and now Kurt Rudolph seems to be saying something similar, and so, I have to find out what late Platonic thought really taught about the issue of determinism.

What some others had to say about it in passing:

FromA critique of Plotinian Neoplatonism in quoting the Reformed scholar and presuppositionalist Cornelius Van Til in his work A Christian Theory of Knowledge (1969)
"In complete contrast to this approach of Plotinus stands that of Augustine. To be sure, as noted, Augustine makes many a concession to the apostate point of view of logic. But at bottom his commitment is to the idea that man is the creature of God rather than participant in the being of God. In spite of his many concessions to the Greek paideia his main principle, as best expressed in his latest works, is that sovereign God gives or withholds his grace to sinners according to his good pleasure. Therefore if those who operate from a Plotinian point of view charge him with determinism Augustine, following Paul, simply responds: "Who art thou O man that contendest with God." The judge of the whole earth will do right. Man, the creature, become the sinner, must admit mystery, but the mystery that he admits does not, as in the case of Plotinus, envelop God.

Still consonant with the basic contrast between Plotinus and Augustine on the question of the final point of reference and also consonant with the difference between them on the question of logic is their difference with respect to the philosophy of fact.

For Plotinus the world of space-time factuality exists by Chance. His principle of individuation is that of pure contingency and irrationality. Over against this purely contingent and and purely irrational principle of individuality is the idea of Augustine that God, having created all things, having sent Christ to redeem the world, directs all things to the end appointed for them by himself. In spite of all the concessions that he makes to the Plotinian principle, especially in his earlier works, it is none the less true of Augustine that his basic commitment, best expressed in his later writings, is that the facts of reality are what they are, ultimately, by virtue of the all-encompassing plan of God.

In the chapter "A Plotinian vehicle for a Manichaen notion":
The link: (pages 85 to 87 and on page 13 he mentions his use of Plotinus in writing against Manichaenism as well)
Augustine, Manichaeism and the Good by Kam-Lun E. Lee

Christ is Risen!

[1] page 370, from the book "GNOSIS:The Nature & History of Gnosticism" by Kurt Rudolph, and translation edited by Robert McLachlan Wilson 1984/1987 HarperSanFrancisco / HarperCollins publishers


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